Young Team (Chemikal Underground 97) Rating: A-

Among the benchmark albums in the so-called "post-rock" genre, Young Team was certainly a terrific debut album from this Scottish quintet. Like many post-rock bands, Mogwai's compositions are mostly instrumental, and by and large they alternate between lovely languid guitar grooves (also pretty piano, spoken word snippets, and studio effects) and ear splittingly loud, explosive sonic assaults. This juxtaposition is played out on the album's first two songs, "Yes! I am A Long Way From Home" (long and silly song titles are also post-rock staples), whose lovely relaxed guitars yield to a soaring guitar crescendo, and the near 12-minute "Like Herod," whose guitars are still languid if less pretty and whose explosions are the album's most jarringly ferocious. Among the other songs, the short (1:38), sparse "Radar Maker" features gorgeous piano and some static, while the much longer "Tracy" (long songs being another prototypical post-rock characteristic) features a vast sound that builds slowly, powerfully, inexorably, though it never quite ignites like I expected, plus like "Like Herod" this one takes a little too long to wind down. "Summer (Priority Version)" is extremely evocative and atmospheric, as is much of the album come to think of it, while the Prince-ly titled "R U Still In 2 It" is the album's lone vocal (as in actual singing) track. Featuring lovely languid guitars as per usual, and vocal assistance from Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat, this has to be one of the saddest songs ever, and yes I mean that as a compliment. Of course, the album's most famous song is the 16+ minute "Mogwai Fear Satan," a jazzy builder that gets extremely LOUD at times, though it has longer softer sections as well that feature a delicate flute fluttering about which creates a blissfully dreamy mood. During the more rocking sections, the propulsive drums drive this one, though the guitars are on overdrive as well, as above all else this intense epic is about its incredible grooves and guitar textures. A terrific finish to a mostly terrific album, my only complaints about Young Team are the same as with most post-rock albums (even the best ones), namely that some songs are too long (including "Mogwai Fear Satan" for all its greatness) and feature too much down time, plus a couple of the shorter tracks don't add much (in particular, "With Portfolio" is an irritating exercise in studio effects). Still, I can listen to Mogwai's gently rolling basslines and swathes of layered guitars all day long, and when these guys elect to rock out, they can do so with a tremendous force. Like most debut albums this one is not without flaws, which I've already pointed out, but few albums I've heard feature fragile beauty and cathartic, cacophonous noise side-by-side so well, and Young Team is one of those special albums that gets better and better the more you get to know it.

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